Our Virginia personal injury clients were a husband and wife who got hit head-on by an on-duty Albemarle County sheriff’s deputy. The couple were riding their motorcycle along a two-lane rural highway when the deputy caused the collision by crossing the double yellow lines separating southbound and northbound lanes of traffic.
The crash severely injured both motorcycle riders. The man sustained a pelvic fracture, torn scrotum and dislocated prostate gland. He spent months wearing a clamp-like contraption called an external fixation device so his pelvis would fuse properly. He also required abdominal surgery to free his testicles, which had withdrawn into his body as a result of the lower-body trauma.
The woman on the motorcycle suffered numerous broken bones in her legs, arms, wrists and hands. One of the fractures in her hand failed to heal, leaving her with a permanent disability that forced her to stop working. Fortunately, our male Virginia personal injury client was eventually able to return to his job.
Key Legal Strategy
Two of our North Carolina personal injury lawyers took on this car accident case. One of the first things they did was obtain an official copy of the police report on the crash. State troopers determined that the sheriff’s deputy was driving a marked cruiser and was on-duty when he drifted over the painted lane divider.
He sideswiped a pickup truck before slamming into and badly injuring the motorcycle riders. The deputy told troopers that he unexpectedly blacked out before losing control of his vehicle.
Our North Carolina personal injury attorneys also secured a court order to review the deputy’s medical records. They discovered that while the emergency room physician who examined the deputy shortly after the wreck found no injuries, a note added to the deputy’s file six weeks later described “syncopal events secondary to dehydration.”
In medical jargon, syncope means fainting. The deputy had spent time during the day of the crash conducting a safe driving course at a local race track. Belatedly adding the note about passing out after not drinking enough water appeared to be an attempt to excuse the deputy from any personal responsibility for driving unsafely.
Our attorneys discovered this tactic while conducting a pretrial interview of the ER physician. That doctor confirmed that one of the deputy’s supervisors requested the addition of the dehydration language.
Further review of the deputy’s medical history uncovered a year-old diagnosis of sleep apnea and a pattern of noncompliance with recommendations to ameliorate the condition that leaves a person prone to doing things like drifting off behind the wheel. In light of this, our attorneys arranged to have two medical experts testify at trial that the deputy’s loss of consciousness while driving was more likely related to his known sleep disorder rather than any possible dehydration.
The deputy’s insurance company decided to avoid a civil trial and entered into a mediation process. In the end, our car accident injury clients agreed to accept a total of $1,512,000 in settlement of all personal injury, disability, lost income and pain and suffering claims.
This case proves that no driver who gets behind the wheel without first getting adequate sleep is safe. Further, the outcome illustrates that even public safety officers can be held accountable for driving negligently and inflicting disabling injuries.
Court and Date: Stanly County Superior Court, January 2008
Staff: Randall Appleton, staff attorney, and a former law firm partner